Technology & Science

Binge drinking riskier for heart: study

The risk of developing heart disease is nearly two times higher for men who binge drink than for those who spread out their drinking over a week, a new study suggests.

Spreading consumption out throughout week healthier than weekend binge

The risk of developing heart disease is nearly two times higher for men who binge drink than for those who spread out their drinking over a week, a new study suggests.

The study of alcohol consumption looked at 9,758 men in three cities in France and Belfast in Northern Ireland who were free of heart disease when the research began in 1991. The study followed the men over an average of 10 years.

"Regular and moderate alcohol intake throughout the week, the typical pattern in middle aged men in France, is associated with a low risk of ischemic heart disease whereas the binge drinking pattern more prevalent in Belfast confers a higher risk," Dr. Jean-Bernard Ruidavets of Toulouse University in France and his co-authors concluded in the study, which appears in Wednesday's online issue of the British Medical Journal.

For the purposes of the study, one drink was considered equal to about 10 to 12 grams of alcohol, or 125ml of wine, or a half pint of beer. Binge drinking was defined as excessive consumption of more than 50 grams of alcohol, or four to five drinks, drunk over a short period of time —  for example, on one day during the weekend.

The risk of developing heart problems such as heart attacks and angina was 1.97 times higher for binge drinkers than it was for regular drinkers.

Those who never consumed alcohol were even worse off than binge drinks; their risk was 2.03 times higher than that of drinkers who spread out their drinking. 

Those who used to drink but no longer consumer alcohol had a heart disease risk that was 1.57 times higher than that of regular drinkers.

Drinking patterns differed in the two countries. In Belfast, most men drank just on Saturday while in the French cities alcohol consumption was spread more evenly throughout the week.

Heavy drinking consequences

Another reason for the higher risk of heart disease in Belfast, the researchers said, could be that people there tend to drink beer and spirits rather than wine. In France, wine, which is thought to protect against heart disease in moderation, is the main alcoholic drink of choice.

People need to be informed about the health consequences of heavy drinking given the positive image of drinking portrayed by the alcohol industry, the researchers said.

Public health messages aimed at middle aged men should stress that the protective effects of alcohol might not apply to them if they binge drink and they could be putting themselves at a higher risk of having a heart attack, Annie Britton of University College London said in a journal editorial accompanying the study.

Irregular drinking may lead to changes in the heart's conducting system linked to rhythm problems like ventricular fibrillation or harmful changes in low density lipoprotein, or LDL (considered the "bad" type of cholesterol, Britton speculated.

The study was funded by INSERM, France's public research body dedicated to medical research, and Merck, Sharp & Dohme-Chibret Laboratory.

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